Thursday, September 04, 2008

“GTV, Explained”

c. 2008 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Mornings in the Icehouse home office are typically centered around the computer. Writing, research, and networking all happen through our ‘live’ Internet portal. In personal terms, this has the creative process occurring with a kind of rapidity that wasn’t possible for journalists of earlier generations. It also means that episodes of uninhibited brainstorming can be translated into action with lightning speed.

Recently, I experienced this phenomenon while pondering community video productions.
During a volunteer shift at ‘Tim’s House’ in Chardon, the subject of conversation steered toward local news coverage. When I confessed to having a background in Public Access Television, an idea crackled in the air… Why not host a half-hour discussion of current events with an elected official from the community?

The notion made me smile with embarrassment.

Every member of the staff was familiar with GTV, a provider of local content on our cable system. Yet no one seemed to fully understand the organization and its purpose. This knowledge-gap made me curious, even after the volunteer day had ended. Going forward, I resolved to contact the group for further information.

My desire to connect with the channel was turned aside by more timely concerns. But eventually, I composed a brief e-mail greeting to send through cyberspace. The thought came into focus as I was busy working on a newspaper column:

“Dear Friends at GTV, I am a Thompson resident, and a local journalist with The Geauga County Maple Leaf of Chardon. I would like to put forth an idea for a new GTV program…”

A reply soon appeared in my mailbox. It was from Dave Jevnikar, General Manager of the organization:

“Rod – we would consider such an idea but I think it would be best… if it did not involve an elected official. No matter how it may be, it will definitely be perceived as a platform for or against whatever beliefs that official may have. Further, it is also our belief that were such a program to be put together that it couldn’t have a resident host who would express his or her opinion. Again, if it were to really be a ‘neutral’ show, and that’s how we, unlike a private newspaper, would have to operate. Our funding requires us to be more than neutral… It’s an interesting idea and we have discussed it in the past. However, to sustain such a show under the guidelines I’ve listed would be a challenge. It’s easy to do one, harder to sustain a series.”

I was excited by the response. Quickly, I sent another message:

“I have a background in local television, having worked at WCIC -13 in Ithaca, New York from 1979-80. (Through Cornell University.) I am curious how the state and federal laws have evolved since that time. Our channel was a conduit for public opinion to be freely expressed by any local citizen, provided that this was done in accordance with laws governing obscenity and commercial advertising. The facility was supervised by a City Cable Commission which acted as a governing body.
Might I ask a couple of questions which no one has yet been able to answer?

1. Who actually 'owns' GTV?
2. Who provides the funding for this channel?
3. Who decides what content is provided?
4. What authority do county elected officials have relating to GTV and the cable system?
5. What direct relationship does GTV have with its viewers, in terms of cooperation, or oversight?”

I fretted that the query might be time-consuming to answer. But Mr. Jevnikar cheerfully offered an authoritative explanation of the group and its mission:

“No one owns G-TV. It is a nonprofit, 501(c) 3 corporation. It’s sole purpose is to provide community programming to the communities that fund the effort on the channels set aside by the cable company in those communities, in this case Time Warner. We are in essence the subcontractor for the communities that receive and then send, the cable television franchise fee on to us. We then program for them in relation to the funding so larger communities get more, etc. None of the governments we serve could do a TV channel on their own. We are not funded in any way by the County. They have no mechanism to fund us nor do they want to at this juncture. County government and G-TV are completely separate save the loose connection I will mention later. There is no statutory authority at the county level and in fact the little local authority that the local governments had is not being eliminated by a state ‘video provider’ law that will cover both cable and phone.

I’m the general manager and as such I take input suggestions from the community, governments, etc. We are funded by the City of Chardon, Chardon Township, Burton Village, Hambden Township, Middlefield Village and Munson Township. We serve them and only them, and their residents and more specifically, their cable subscribers. We view them as ‘our customers.’ Other communities, their residents, etc. are really not in the mix. They don’t fund us, don’t receive the programming, etc. In really big policy issues, I consult with our board that includes Auditor Tracy Jemison and County Superintendent Matt Galemmo. For the most part I try to get a sense of what people like, what has relevance to the communities we serve and then try to cover the events that are out there. We are primarily event driven in our coverage. We do not ‘create’ programming as you have suggested for the most part. The main reason is simply money. For every hour on the air, there are usually 3-4 hours of preparation and that all costs money if people want to be paid, and you expect them to show up when you need them. We don’t have studio but remain ‘on the road’ for our event coverage.

We are also not, though our name might indicate (Geauga Local Access Cable Corporation), an ACCESS channel. Time Warner provides that in some fashion but I can’t comment on how, whether, etc. they do it. We do not for example take outside programs for replay. If someone wants to access the cable system, they do that on the public access channel – managed by TWC. So if you produced your own show, it would be through them and not G-TV that you would gain access to the cable system. When that would play, etc. would be entirely up to them.

So that’s in essence what we are and how we do it. It’s not the only way by any means but it is pretty neutral given the funding sources we have and the nature of the coverage we provide.”

This exchange of messages brought much illumination to the subject of GTV. I felt gratified to learn about the local group and its membership. In addition, the encounter seemed to offer motivation for a future writing exercise.

My original idea had faded. Yet in its place was something more valuable by far – a fresh kernel of inspiration.

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